How to use Hashtags

How to use Hashtags on Instagram

Hashtags are quite simply a pound key (#) followed by a keyword. Hashtags are predominantly present on both Twitter on Instagram and are primarily used to categorize content. Since late 2017, Instagram even allows you to directly follow hashtags in an effort to show even more relevant and interesting content in your feed.


Instagram offers the possibility to add up to 30 hashtags on each post. That means that, like SEO and keyword ranking, your post can be searched for with 30 hashtags. Each and every time! Research performed by Buffer, indicates that posts with 11 or more hashtags receive the highest engagement (expressed in likes and comments):

So there really is no reason not to be using hashtags!


However, it can sometimes be confusing or unclear to find out which hashtags you should (or shouldn’t) use on your posts. So to help you get the most out of hashtags, here a few guidelines.


Which hashtags to avoid


Not all hashtags receive equal praise on Instagram, and some of them have been limited or band and should be completely avoided at all costs!


First, you should avoid hashtags that are banned or broken. You can easily spot banned (or broken) hashtags. If you look them up and they don’t show the ‘most recent’ part, chances are this hashtag is limited or banned. The only reason you’re seeing top posts is that Instagram is (manually) vetting certain posts and allows them to appear. Don’t count on their leniency to let yours through though!  


Secondly, avoid saturated hashtags like #like4like #follow4follow #l4l. Although a lot of guides will advise you to use these hashtags to grow, the majority of it will come from low-level quality accounts, bots or automated fake profiles. The Instagram algorithm monitors all your links and related accounts, so you will want to avoid these low quality or even fake profiles at all cost!


And the third type of hashtags to avoid are those that are totally unrelated to your content. Because hashtags are used as a way to categorize your posts, they need to be ultra-relevant to your content. There is no reason why you would tag a picture with the hashtag #ootd (outfit of the day) if it’s a travel picture, even when a dozen guides advise you to! Know that every user on Instagram has the option to hide your post from appearing under that hashtag. Should Instagram receive multiple requests, your reach will be lowered!


Which hashtags should you use


It’s one thing to avoid hashtag, but you should also focus on relevant hashtags that match your post. When selecting hashtags, one of the first things you should pay attention to is its size: the number of posts tagged with this hashtags.


As we all know, hashtags are shown in 2 separate areas: as one of the 9 ‘top posts’ or within the ‘most recent’ feed. The top posts are constructed in such a way that they reward relevancy and engagement received and when you match both of these ‘requirements’, your post will be shown in the top posts. When you don’t (yet) match these criteria, your post will be displayed in the ever-growing list of most recent posts. That’s where the size of the hashtag comes in to play. If you pick a hashtag with hundreds of millions of posts, you post won’t display for long. If you use smaller hashtags (tens or hundreds of thousands of posts), your post will be displayed under most recent longer. Because of the sheer volume of posts that get tagged with (for example) #fashion every second (#fashion currently has about 500 million images tagged with it), your post will probably never even be seen on the hashtags feed.


This is why ‘hashtag laddering’ is so important. You will want to use a selection of hashtags in different sizes to maximize exposure. So research hashtags, construct an (Excel) list of various options and list their size. And randomize them on every post. Using a laddering principle will allow you to stay on ‘most recent’ longer for smaller hashtags, and will increase your chance to making it to top posts (both for the smaller and larger hashtags).


If you are unsure which hashtags you should use, a great place to look for inspiration is by using freely available tools on the web like:




And luckily, there are also noteworthy mobile applications available that will assist you:


  • Hashme (iOs & Android)
  • Focalmark (iOs & Android)


Use local hashtags


Another great tip when using hashtags is to use localized hashtags. This adds discoverability to your posts within local communities. You could, for instance, use hashtags like #newyork #bronx #orangecounty and so on. This will allow people within your business local community to become aware of your posts, potentially getting them on your doorstep.


Create a branded hashtag


Another must for your business is using a branded hashtag. With the current changes, you can even use this hashtag within your bio profile! This adds maximum discoverability.


A branded hashtag is generally constructed by using either the business name (like #cloudsocials) or using a slogan or unique catchphrase that is recognizable for your business (for instance: #bestbrewintexas). Using branded hashtags opens up options to provide tracking (to see if other users tag your brand in images) and organize sweepstakes, giveaways, competitions…


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